Follow Me Foodie to California (San Diego & LA) – Round 2!
Follow Me Foodie to Bali straight into Follow Me Foodie to California with a break in between in Follow Me Foodie to Montreal! I don’t mean to rub it in, but I just want you to click on those posts in case you missed them! All of them were delicious on different levels and although I live on the West Coast, it was nice to be in a warmer part of it in December.
It was an impromptu trip to California and I spent most of my time in San Diego with another quick side trip to Los Angeles (LA). It was my last global foodie adventure of 2012 and it was the perfect way to wrap up the year. It was actually quite cold in California this year so I had to eat a few more meals to stay warm – no problem.
I’ve been to California several times, but it’s just such a massive state and each area is so different. In terms of “foodie cities” I’m most impressed with San Francisco and LA, and many like to think it rivals Portland and Vancouver’s food scene on the West Coast. I feel like I need to give a shout out to Napa Valley as well, but it’s too small, narrow and limited in variety to be the culinary leader. Mind you I haven’t explored all of California and I kind of listed the “given food cities”, but they got their reputation for a reason.
When it comes to ethnic cuisine it is better in cities with a large immigrant population, which is a trait that dominates the West Coast. For Asian food on the West Coast of North America I think it is fair to say Vancouver takes the crown, but when it comes to anything Latin, Mexican or South American then you better go further South. So when I’m visiting California I actually like to explore their Latin restaurants as well as Californian cuisine – the Asian food is likely better at home (Vancouver, BC).
Californian cuisine is different from general “American cuisine”. The State is so culturally diverse (like Vancouver) that it defines its own cuisine by drawing from techniques and ingredients that are predominantly local, but also global. Some of the population has always supported “farm to table” and the use of local ingredients, but it is only in the last few years that the concept has become a leading philosophy in the culinary scene.
Generally speaking Californian cuisine is very similar to Pacific Northwest cuisine which is what we experience up North (duh!). It is not really paying ode to traditions and authenticity, but being open minded to accepting new flavours and ideas… and they use more avocados. The further South you go they also do not have to worry about seasonal ingredients as much (damn their all year warm/hot climate).
The whole West Coast is relatively liberal in thought and palate and while everything does not always work or taste good, it is always interesting and ever changing. There is a degree of creativity that is unique to West Coast ingredients and tastes; and it can’t be replicated elsewhere without the mosaic of cultures they/we are so lucky to have. Almost every developed country likes to think of itself as a “melting pot of cultures”, but it is all relative and California is still one of the most diverse in the US.
Follow Me Foodie Legend
No diamond – Not recommend (Under 29%)
♦ – Okay, not necessary to try. (30-49%)
♦♦ – Good, with some hits and misses. (50-69%)
♦♦♦ – Very good, dining itinerary worthy. (70-89%)
♦♦♦♦ – Excellent, make a trip out for it. (90-100%)
♦♦♦♦♦ – Follow Me Foodie Must Try! (Bonus marks! 100%+)
Follow Me Foodie to San Diego!
Follow Me Foodie to California – San Diego! (Round 2 – Part 2/3)
Oof. Look at the seals. Now look at me. Now back at the seals, now back to… THE SEALS! Yeeaah, don’t look at me. That’s basically how I felt after every meal in lazy San Diego and after Christmas and the holidays it’s more whale than seal. It was a very happy holidays and I can’t complain about eating well.
I’ve written about Follow Me Foodie to San Diego in 2010 and I still have lots more to explore, but I’m getting to know it better. It is a very laid back city even in the context of the West Coast where it is all generally laid back. It is pretty much where many retired people in California like to make their home. It is gorgeous and relaxing and slower paced than the rest of California even though it is the second largest city in it.
Certain areas are really wealthy so you can find fine dining, but it is not a fancy or fine dining city and it is much more casual and “surfer-friendly”. Being close to the Mexican boarder there is a significant Mexican population and therefore lots of Mexican food or Mexican influences in the food. I considered tacos the “sushi” of Vancouver there. Since it is on the coast it is known for their seafood and stereotypically fish tacos, but coming from Vancouver I’m spoiled. Brunch seems more popular than late night dining and pubs with good vibes are popular but it is not really a foodie destination yet in the grand scheme of things.
In a food competitive State like California it doesn’t portray itself as the culinary leader or a “foodie city”, but it’s beautiful and affordable. There are certainly some great restaurants and cool neighbourhoods, but for the most part it is a place to just relax (ideally with a craft beer instead of wine). It’s also perfect if you have a family and young children (hello San Diego Zoo, Seaworld and Lego Land!)
**Note: This is a quick summary of San Diego and there will be more to come with individual posts on some of my favourites.
Restaurant: Phil’s BBQ
Address: 3750 Sports Arena Boulevard, San Diego, CA
Price Range: $10-20 ($15-20 mains)
It is famous for award winning ribs and it is constantly named “Best BBQ in San Diego”. It has a strong and loyal following from the community and has quickly become a local and tourist favourite with 3 locations. The smell of BBQ dominates the parking lot and you can smell it even from blocks away. It is closest to Kansas style barbeque with super saucy ribs that are sticky and sweet. If you are a purist and don’t like saucy BBQ than you probably won’t like Phil’s or see the hype for it. The meat is good quality, the menu is manageable and the specialty is their mesquite smoked baby back ribs and beef ribs.
Menu features/highlights: Full Baby back rib dinner (10-12 bones) includes 2 small sides $19.95, Beef rib dinner (5 bones) includes 2 small sides $19.95, Sweet baked beans (small $1.50), and apparently the Macaroni salad (small $1.50) is good.
Pros: Family friendly, great value, good quality meats, generous portions
Cons: Lines ups and long waits. Limited BBQ meats menu. Not about the ambiance. Smell gets in your clothes.
Tips: There are 3 locations and a constant line up at all of them. Avoid peak hours or prepare to stand in a line that goes out the door and possibly around the building. The portions are huge and very shareable.
Restaurant: The Ritual Tavern
Cuisine: American/Californian/Gastropub/Pub Food
Address: 4095 30th Street, San Diego, CA
Price Range: $10-20+ ($15-20 mains)
I only came here for brunch so I can’t speak for the rest of the menu, but the brunch was okay. The pub is very well liked in the neighbourhood, but the ambiance is very “pub/bar” and the dinner menu is probably more promising. It seems more appropriate for craft beer and drinking. It wasn’t a place I would personally frequent and it does not compare to Gastropubs in bigger food cities, but there was effort and it was trying. There was nothing bad, but nothing great.
Menu features/highlights: Things I tried: Brioche stuffed french toast – sadie rose brioche stuffed with cream cheese & berries, real maple syrup ($10), Pulled pork hash & egg * natural pork (slow roasted in a citrus broth) bell pepper, onion & potato hash, topped w/egg done your way ($10), Chef’s choice hummus – served with pita (ask about today’s recipe) ($7), Citrus cured scallops & winter squash – roasted delicata squash, enoki & oyster mushroom over grilled ciabatta ($10), and Truffle Parmesan fries.
Pros: They source really good quality breads.
Cons: Very dark lighting for brunch and food was just okay.
Tips: Perhaps the dinner menu is better… ? The house made hot sauces and homemade Ketchup is pretty good!
Restaurant: The Smoking Goat
Address: 3408 30th Street, San Diego, CA
Phone: (619) 955-5295
Price Range: $20-30+ ($16-28 mains)
It started off as a very small restaurant and now it has doubled in size. It’s still quite small and cozy and it is a great French bistro in North Park. It is worth the trip out even if you do not live in the area. The food was sophisticated and the room casual, but very charming and the open kitchen was a plus. The food was generally well executed and forward in thought, but still unpretentious. It lived up to being a French bistro with modern American influences and it is a place I would return to if I was a local.
Menu features/highlights: TSG butternut squash – brussels sprouts, sage, brown butter, pancetta lardons, reduced balsamic, pecorino romano ($14), Veal sweetbreads – bacon, onion & mushroom compte, polenta, huckleberry gastrique ($19), TSG cassoulet – lamb shoulder, andouille sausage, confit duck leg, cannellini beans ($27)
Pros: Very good food, sophisticated, good atmosphere, open kitchen
Cons: Can be pricey, sells out of popular dishes, and service is friendly but inattentive.
Tips: It closes at 9pm which is quite early. Get there early because they sell out of popular favourites.
Restaurant: Burger Lounge
Address: Multiple locations
Price Range: $10 or less ($8-10 burgers)
It was voted “Best New Restaurant of 2012” by LA Weekly. It started in San Diego and it now has 6 locations and 2 more locations in Los Angeles. It is not your typical “fast food burger chain”. It is more sophisticated, modern and has a Californian feel. The menu is very basic and simple, but they offer very good quality burgers with fresh ingredients. The biggest draw for me as a “fast food chain” is that the beef burgers can be prepared medium rare or to your desired doneness. The organic and grass fed beef comes from one sustainable farm with ethically treated animals and it is a burger you feel good about eating. Everything is sourced well and it is a quickly developing chain restaurant for good reason too. You think there’s enough burger chains in North America, but I’m happy to make room for Burger Lounge.
Menu features/highlights: Grass Fed Bison Burger – Maytag Blue Cheese, Pickled Red Onions, Roasted Galic Aioli ($9.95), The Lounge Burger – 100% American Grass-Fed Beef – can be ordered medium rare ($7.95), French Fries – Fresh-Cut, Twice-Cooked in the Belgian Tradition ($2.99 / $3.99) Onion Rings – House-Made, Light and Crispy ($3.99 / $4.99) Lounge Shake – Premium Chocolate or Vanilla ($ 4.95 or + Malt for .95¢).
Pros: Good quality and fresh ingredients, sustainable, organic grass fed meats, environmental friendly, healthy options, slow food that is fast, family friendly
Cons: Can be pricey, but value is there. Simple menu with limited options.
Tips: They use Dryer’s Ice Cream for the milkshakes and the floats are good.
Restaurant: Extraordinary Desserts
Cuisine: Bakery/Cafe/Desserts/Ice Cream
Address: 2 locations – 1430 Union Street, San Diego, CA
Phone: (619) 294-7001
Price Range: $10-20 ($7.95-$10.95/slice of cake)
If you’ve never been to Extraordinary Desserts than I would say it is an FMF Must Try! It is a popular local and tourist favourite and it is unique to San Diego let alone the food scene. It is a one of a kind boutique dessert shop and a food destination for dessert lovers. It is not fine dining dessert, but modern and sophisticated American childhood favourites. Pastry Chef and owner Karen Krasne is a pioneer in American desserts and she offers pastries, baked goods, and ice cream, but the cakes are her specialty.
It was my second time here (first time here) and I still loved it, but I just know it has more potential. There are two locations and there is a guaranteed line up after dinner. To keep up with demand it can seem a bit “mass produced”, but for the volume they do it is still impressive. It is still very good quality, well executed and everything is garnished with beautiful edible flowers. The turnover is quick so everything is always fresh, but it is just missing some culinary details to make each dessert outstanding. They also have a savoury cafe menu.
Menu features/highlights: There are 20+ cakes ($7.95-$10.95/slice) and some include: Au Chocolate – Our celebrated chocolate mousse torte! Rich and creamy Valrhona dark chocolate mousse tops a thick layer of chocolate cake soaked in cocoa and covered in dark chocolate ganache. Shangri-La – Heavenly. White chocolate mousse, guava mousse, fresh strawberries and whipped cream are layered between vanilla cakes moistened with kirsch. Toasted Macadamia Caramel Cheesecake – Unlike anything you’ve ever tasted! A rich and creamy cheesecake with a macadamia shortbread cookies crust is covered with homemade caramel and topped with a thick layer of whipped cream. Flourless Banana Nut Torte – Banana cake layered with cream cheese mousse and fresh bananas.
Pros: Fresh, good quality, beautiful ambiance/desserts, good value, very good desserts, great experience
Cons: Lacks details to make it outstanding. Without the edible flowers, it just looks like a nice dessert. Line ups and long waits at peak hours.
Tips: Go to the original location because they have more options and a bigger menu. It is also nicer, but if you’re in a time crunch than the Middletown location usually has a shorter line. Avoid the peak hours (after dinner) and you won’t have to wait for a table, otherwise be prepared to wait in a long line.